Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Saturday, January 29, 2022

UNISON - the balloon goes up...

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will remember that I served for many years on the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON. Over those years I blogged frequently about my work as an NEC member and the only occasionally tedious goings-on at the UNISON headquarters.

In the last week, something has happened which never happened in all my years on the NEC. Paid officials of the trade union have withdrawn from a committee meeting whilst it was in session and have subsequently been instructed by the General Secretary not to attend further committee meetings, which the General Secretary has purported to postpone, although she has no power to do this. An authoritative report of this unprecedented development is available online here.

The General Secretary has not simply exceeded her authority by purporting to postpone meetings of committees of the NEC, she has acted in direct contravention of the Union Rule book which states that; “The General Secretary shall act under the direction of the National Executive Council.” (Rule E.3.1) Happily, it appears that members of the NEC are not allowing themselves to be prevented from meeting by this unfounded administrative diktat from a paid official.

I am very sorry to see this conflict at the top of the trade union of which I have been a member since its inception, but it is very very clear that the fault lies with the General Secretary for exceeding her authority and acting in contravention of the Rules adopted by UNISON members to govern our affairs. This is not a dispute between different groups of members on our National Executive, but between those who would respect the UNISON Rule Book and those who would not.

I hope that all members of our NEC will support the unanimous decision of their Staffing Committee to go ahead with a meeting in the absence of officials, who had been wrongfully instructed to stay away, so that the committee could discuss recommendations on conference motions to be considered by the NEC. Certainly, those members of the NEC who objected to certain decisions taken at their October meeting on the grounds that these were contrary to rule or that they trespassed on the authority of the National Delegate Conference must surely now stand with their NEC colleagues in defence of the Rule Book and of the process whereby the NEC considers its submissions to Conference through its committees.

This is the latest skirmish in a battle which is as old as UNISON itself. UNISON’s very first National Delegate Conference in 1994 agreed an amendment to what is now Rule B.2.2 to clarify that UNISON is a “member-led” union, rather than a “member-centred” union, as was set out in the Rule Book at the time of the merger of the former partner unions.

The latter form of words was defended by those who wanted to see a trade union in which expert officials would service and guide the membership. The successful amendment to the Rule Book, which has since stood the test of time, reflected the views of those who believe that the direction and policy of the trade union should be determined by its membership whom the paid officials should serve as organisers.

As anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the history of our trade union will know this rule has been honoured as often in the breach as in the observance. Whether it has been in unjustified politically motivated disciplinary action against left-wing activists or in politically motivated seizure of control of left-led branches, paid officials of our trade union, with the sanction of the National Executive, have, from time to time, asserted an authority they do not have and made a nonsense of the rule amendment agreed back in 1994.

Now, for the first time, a majority of members of our NEC will not support such action and are seeking to hold the union machine effectively to account. It would appear that elements within the union machine are uncomfortable with this state of affairs.

It is perhaps remarkable that the trigger for this unprecedented action by UNISON officials appear to have been decisions of the Finance Committee in relation to adding accountability to decisions around staff using UNISON funds for personal legal advice and providing transparency on the use of UNISON funds for ongoing release time for some NEC members.

Certainly, there is no provision in UNISON rules to permit staff to make use of UNISON funds to seek legal advice for personal reasons.

I know from personal experience, and have had it on the highest authority, that when UNISON staff take legal action on their own account, they are expected to fund this themselves. I do not know the detail of the concerns which our finance committee were investigating, but I do know that they were quite within their rights to look into this matter.

As to the use of UNISON funds to pay for the release of members of the NEC from their work duties, this has been a long-running issue. For my part, when I was on the NEC I neither asked nor was I ever offered any such support. I negotiated the time off I required from my employer based upon the strength of rank and file trade union organisation locally.

However, in my years on the NEC I did become aware of various examples of NEC members, having been unable to secure agreement of the employer to paid time off for their national duties, being paid by UNISON or having the employer reimbursed for their time.

One right-wing member of the NEC reputedly received more pay from UNISON then she would have received has she had no time off work at all. In another case, a senior NEC member who spent their whole time on their various national duties had not been seen in their own branch for many years.

I was able to work out that certain colleagues were benefiting from such arrangements, because it was obvious, but I never knew any details and I never expected to know any because I was simply an individual member of the NEC with no particular locus in relation to the matter. I did think it odd that those for whom these arrangements were made seemed exclusively to be those upon whom the union machine could generally count for support (or perhaps I didn't really think that was odd at all).

Now that the chair of the Finance Committee has been trying to find out for months what arrangements the trade union is making to pay for the time off of some NEC members, and has been unable to do so, they have acted entirely properly in raising the matter with the Finance Committee.

It is most unfortunate that the conduct of UNISON officials in this matter gives the impression of their having something to hide in relation to the issues of concern to the NEC Finance Committee.

This matter needs to be resolved and the ball is surely in the court of the General Secretary to step back from the provocative action which she has taken and to facilitate proper investigation by the NEC into the use of the funds which belong to UNISON members.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The struggle continues

While the Tory government descends ever further into chaos, our own Labour Party National Executive this week prioritised refusing to support the proposal that Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, should be readmitted to the Parliamentary Labour Party and also agreed that local Labour Party members should have less say in the selection of Parliamentary candidates.

Speaking as the chair of a Constituency Party whose members had almost no say in the selection of our candidates in the past two general elections, under a socialist leader, I sympathise very much with all those who are angry about the second of these decisions.

Speaking as a socialist who has been a member of the Labour Party for more than 40 years and had admired Jeremy Corbyn for his consistency and integrity for decades before he became Leader of our party I also have great sympathy with all those who are angry about the first of these decisions.

The question is, as of course it always is in politics, "what is to be done?” I admire Laura Pidcock, but I deeply regret her mistaken decision to resign from the Labour Party NEC. We hold elections in a party for a term of office and I generally think that those who have stood for election and sought the trust and confidence of those who have voted for them ought always, at the very least, to serve the term of office for which they have been elected no matter how they might feel.

I have far more sympathy for the position of other socialist NEC members, such as Gemma Bolton, who are proposing to stand their ground and continue to fight for what is right. 

The struggle to transform society is fought over lifetimes and generations not over years or months, and I have always thought that there are few things less appealing than those who engage in political activity only when they believe that they are on the brink of some sort of victory.

I appreciate that as someone with advanced cancer it isn't saying very much to say that I don't expect to see socialism in my lifetime. However, I don't particularly expect that my children will live to see socialism in their lifetimes. The transition from feudalism to capitalism took something approaching half a millennium. Human society does not evolve in accordance with the strength of our feelings but in accordance with what Marx called the "laws of motion”, which can be studied and understood.

For hundreds of years working people have struggled for socialism and have lived and died in that struggle always hoping that they may be contributing to a better future which they do not expect themselves to see. The struggle has been through many twists and turns and they have been many setbacks and there will be many more.

For socialists in Britain, or at least England, the Labour Party has been an important site of the struggle for socialism for more than 100 year. This has been true when the Party leadership and the policies pursued by the Party in Parliament have pleased the left-wing and it has continued to be true when, as in the 1950s or the 1980s and 1990s, the party has tried to eliminate socialism from its ranks. It remains true today.

For as long as the Labour Party retains an organic relationship with the trade unions, a feature which has long distinguished it from many European social Democratic parties, it will not be possible for the party leadership to eradicate socialism from our ranks.

The pioneers who created our party did not do so because they wanted to create career opportunities in politics for those who wanted to be slightly less reactionary than the Tories. 

In fact, when you think about it, they created the Labour Party precisely because that approach was not delivering for working-class people in the late 19th century any more than it can deliver for working-class people in the early 21st century.

For most of the history of our Party parliamentarians whose aspirations are limited to ameliorating slightly the conditions of existence of our people (whilst doing rather better for their own conditions of existence) have dominated our Party. It is to be expected that this will continue because, a labour movement determined upon fundamental change is a fundamental threat to the power of the ruling class. This is, of course, why the Corbyn leadership of the party faced such venom and such attacks. 

Just because defeat may be the most likely outcome it does not mean that it is inevitable nor that victory is impossible.

Opportunities for socialists to shift the direction of the Labour Party have always been and will continue to be as rare as hens teeth. One of the things that have been, and will be, even rarer will be opportunities for socialists to build a successful replacement for the Labour Party.

The struggle continues.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Don't be fooled. The West is not a lesser evil.

Contrary to what you might think from watching the television news or listening to the UK government, Ukraine in 2021 is neither Belgium in 1914 nor Poland in 1939. Nothing like a bit of a scare to distract attention from problems at home…

I don't often agree with Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins, but I think he's got it about right when he points out that Russia in the 21st-century is a foreign policy problem which the West itself created for itself.

It is enormously disappointing to see Labour tail-ending the pomposity and nonsense of Boris Johnson pretending that a small island off the north coast of Europe is a world power whose opinions about what goes on in Ukraine and Russia matter particularly.

Russian foreign policy looks a lot like Soviet foreign policy just as Soviet foreign policy looked a lot like Czarist foreign policy. NATO was, we were told when I was young, necessary to protect us from the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet union and the Red Army. We now know that there was never any threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, although many of us knew that at the time.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO came up with a new reason for its existence and spread ever eastwards. Now it appears, NATO cannot possibly concede that Ukraine should be denied membership of the organisation should it wish it.

I suppose this makes perfect sense given that we all know that Ukraine has a lengthy coastline on the North Atlantic! 

It takes very little imagination to understand the perspective of the Russian state seeing itself surrounded more and more by hostile states linked in a military alliance which sees Russia as an enemy.

It is not necessary to have any sympathy whatsoever for the kleptocracy of superannuated former Soviet bureaucrats and criminal oligarchs who rule Putin's Russia in order to see through the transparently absurd justification for western intervention in the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Those of us in this country who are opposed to militarism and war need to be opposed to the very existence of NATO, an aggressive imperialist military alliance which should've been left in the 20th century where it had already done enough harm.

Labour party members and trade unionists need to campaign for a labour movement which opposes the foreign policy of this Tory Government rather than following on its coat tails.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The end of Boris Johnson

 In the spring of 2020, as I blogged is here at the time, my father died.

We had his funeral, such as it was, on the 19th of May 2020.

A dozen of us were allowed to be there. We couldn't have a wake. 

Not everyone who should've been there to celebrate the life of my lovely father could be there and none of us could join together meaningfully after the brief and socially distanced ceremony.

If only we had thought to “Bring our own booze”…

The following day dozens of senior officials had a party in the garden of Downing Street.

This government is beyond belief.

Today Boris Johnson walked into parliament. Behind him with his MPs did he recognise they were a party? Perhaps they were just a gathering...

Of course Johnson has to go and of course Starmer is right to demand this.

However the Tories will probably dump him at a time of their choosing whilst enabling a new leader to have a good run up to the next general election.

Obviously we should enjoy watching Boris Johnson flapping around like a dying fish.

However, we need to be prepared to fight a general election against a rejuvenated Tory party under a new leader.